Sunday Sermon: WCW Biggest Mistakes

Jamie Lithgow, James Giles, Ashlee Figiel, Craig Wilson & Brian Damage

David Arquette wins the WCW title (Image courtesy of WWE.com)

David Arquette wins the WCW title (Image courtesy of WWE.com)

With the recent release of the War Games DVD we are in a bit of a WCW mood this week. Most of the old War Games matches are fondly remembered, and it’s fair to say that a good portion of wrestling fans that have seen one would be eager to see WWE revive the two ring spectacular. However, this is one of WCW’s success stories, and we’re not interested in those today. WCW had a couple of fantastic years with some genuine success stories, but they also made some monumental mistakes. Today Jamie Lithgow, James Giles, Ashlee Figiel, Craig Wilson and Brian Damage discuss what they feel were WCW’s biggest blunders…

Jamie: I don’t know where to start, I feel like the proverbial kid in a candy store. I’m sure there is a mountain of backstage stuff involving “creative control” contract clauses that we could discuss, but there were more than enough on-screen mistakes to get us started. How about Goldberg defeating Hogan for the title on Nitro. It just boggles the mind that Bischoff and the other the bosses at WCW were so focussed on beating WWE in ratings each Monday that they threw a potential gold mine down the drain. This was the Starrcade ’98 main event sorted, they just had to stick to the Goldberg slow build and cash in on the PPV sales of WCW’s version of Wrestlemania. You will find me complaining elsewhere on this blog that WWE concentrate too much on making cash rather than the quality of their TV Shows, with WCW it was the opposite. The episode of Nitro when Goldberg won the title was fantastic, the Georgia was rocking. Problem was this gigantic match was given away for free with just one week’s build-up. I may criticise WWE’s product from time to time (For the record it’s pretty good right now) but at least they have some business sense.

James: I agree that it retrospect this was a moronic thing for WCW to do and undoubtedly cost them a huge PPV buyrate and payday for everyone involved. But at the time i do actually undertstand why they did it; the competition with WWE was all about TV ratings then, to the extent many WWE PPVs seemed to hype the following nights RAW, rather than the other way round. Put on any PPV from 1998 and it will very likely have a screwy finish in the main event and the announcers hammering home to watch RAW tomorrow to see the aftermath. TV was everything back then, but i do agree that chasing the ratings cost them in ways the didnt even seem to give any thought too.

For me, the Fingerpoke of Doom is the most abysmal WCW mistake. To recap, the NWO had split into two factions in early 1998, one being led by Hogan and the other by Nash. Hogan disappeared off TV a few months later, supposedly retiring; Nash continued to lead Wolfpack, which lead to his challenging Goldberg for the WCW Championship at Starcade 1998. Nash won thanks to a screwy taser finish, which ended Goldbergs winning streak and massively deflated the fans. The following Nitro Nash stated he wasnt happy how he won and offered Goldberg a rematch, but Goldberg was arrested for stalking Miss Elizabeth. Nash instead inexplicably offered the title shot to Hogan, making his first TV appearance since he ‘retired’. In the match, they pulled a massive swerve where Nash laid down for Hogan, and then reformed the NWO with Hall and Steiner post match, inlcuding a Goldberg beat-down.

There was so many things wrong with this booking, it makes my head hurt – not only did it ignore months worth of stories where Hogan and Nash had been enemies, it made the World Title seem completely worthless and irrelevant. It also derailed the push of WCW’s most over babyface, Goldberg, from which he never really recovered. It was also the same Nitro in which WCW gave away Mankinds WWF championship victory over the Rock, a move which caused a massive chunk of the audience to switch over, further screwing up the ratings. It resurected the NWO too, despite it being well past its sell by date. All these things combined at once made most WCW fans give up caring over-night; they would never have the same faith in the company again, feeling that WCW simply didnt care about what they wanted.

More than anything though, these two days in WCW history seemed to take everything that WCW had been praised and lauded for over the previous few years and take a massive shit on it; The NWO, Goldberg, the shocking anything-can-happen feel of the show were all reduced to nowt. The actually managed to ruin everything that had made them so successful previoulsy in two nights, and the company would never, ever recover from it.

Ashlee: It was said several times on the ‘Rise & Fall of WCW’ that they let the inmates run the asylum. Do you think Vince McMahon would let his wrestlers tell him how to run his business? Hell no!

Hogan, Nash, and Hall (among others) were treating that place like it was their own personal playground. They got whatever they wanted; prime storylines, big payouts, top billing, and championships basically whenever they wanted them. Never mind having talent or ambition, if you weren’t in the inner sanctum you weren’t getting squat. Those in charge at WCW squandered countless opportunities, caring more about crushing the WWE than improving their own product. It just blows my mind that people can be this greedy and ruin something that was so wonderful for fans (I’ve always been a strict WWE fan but I did watch WCW while it was an active promotion, always have to watch what the competition is doing). Had they focused on themselves, we would still have two viable and interesting companies that offer fans a unique experience. Instead, WCW’s legacy is tarnished by questionable decisions.

To WWF fans Roma may be seen as a jobber but he was a member of The Four Horsemen (Image courtesy of ioffer.com)

To WWF fans Roma may be seen as a jobber but he was a member of The Four Horsemen (Image courtesy of ioffer.com)

Craig: Where to start with this topic.. The inmates running the asylum is certainly what it was. What was worse they eventually actually gave one of the inmates, in Kevin Nash, the booking gig anyway. I know hindsight is a great thing but even then were there people that thought that was a good idea?!

Brian’s written a number of pieces on jobbers recently, so to keep it topical what about when WCW took a perennial WWF jobber and made him a member of The Four Horsemen. Yup, I’m talking about Paul Roma. Obviously not the biggest mistake they ever made but it damaged the Horsemen legacy somewhat.

I think, though, one of their worst crimes has to be their use of celebrities. Jay Leno and Karl Malone in main events and David Arquette as the WCW champion. I personally think the WWE does the celebrity stuff a bit OTT for my taste, but get why they do it for Wrestlemania and generating cross over appeal but with WCW it was overkill.

Jamie: Celebrities in WCW you say? Surely that brings us to the elephant in the room; David Arquette. In an attempt to promote the beyond awful film ‘Ready 2 Rumble’, the creative genius’s at WCW decided to feature it’s star, Arquette, on a few shows. Not much wrong with that, right? WWE promotes its films and feature celebrities all the time. However in WWE the celebrity endorsements and film plugs are more of an annoyance that disappear after a few minutes; in WCW they held the World Heavyweight Championship! Arquette acquired the belt in a tag match with a bizarre stipulation that meant he won the title from his partner, DDP, by pinning Eric Bischoff. One would think that in the cool light of day WCW would have realised that they had effectively shat on the once prestigious title and acted to swiftly rectify the situation? Nope, Arquette held the belt for two weeks, and actually made one successful defence (against Tank Abbott and with DDP’s help) before dropping it to Jeff Jarrett in a triple cage match at Slamboree 2000. It’s worth pointing out here that Arquette, as an avid wrestling fan, was said to be completely against this angle and was powerless to change the writer’s minds. He ended up giving all the money he made from his stint in WCW to the families of Owen Hart, Brian Pillman and also Darren ‘Droz’ Drozdov, so at least some good came of the situation.

This debacle is often cited as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for WCW. However, could this mistake be the result of another, even bigger, mistake? I am of course speaking about the guy that “masterminded” this angle; Vince Russo…

Craig: You say Russo, I say the ‘Fingerpoke of Doom’ as being equally as woeful as the Arquette as

You can't discuss the demise of WCW without mentioning Vince Russo (Image courtesy of inyourheadonline.com)

You can’t discuss the demise of WCW without mentioning Vince Russo (Image courtesy of inyourheadonline.com)

champion stuff to be honest. Sure, Russo’s run was by and large miserable but the fingerpoke of doom was just stupid. For many WCW fans it was the final straw and ratings dropped spectacularly from then on in. It certainly got the ball rolling.

As for Russo, I’ve got his book and he states that fans opinion on him is spllit. They either think, and a quote “he’s a genuis or single handedly ruined the sport.” Whilst I think the latter is over doing it. I’ve yet to meet anyone that thinks the former. Surely no one thinks that?!

James: I dont know that anyone has referred to him as a genius, but there was huge deal made when he jumped shiped to WCW in Oct 1999, with many people genuinely believing he would actually turn WCW around. And he was head writer during one of WWE most creatively fruitful periods in its history, and played big part in coming up with stories such as Austin Vs McMahon, Kane Vs Undertaker, DX Vs The Nation etc etc. There does seem to be some contention about how responsible he was for WWE’s success, with some saying he turned the company around single-handedly and others saying he was just an ideas man, and Vince and the other writers did most of the leg work.

Unquestionably the guy had a major impact on wrestling in general, and seemingly did as much good for WWE as he did bad for WCW. Apparently he admitedly in a RF Shoot video that he wasnt sure how he would fare in WCW without McMahons guidance, so that does seem to say a lot. He must have had a great creative mind to come up with some of the stuff he did, but i think genius would definitley be exaggerating. I think his detractors and supporters inflate how much bad or good he did for either company, and i dont see you could clearly state he was either great or awful. He did a certain amount of both it would seem to me.

Jamie: I’d agree with that. It doesn’t take a genius to reference and follow popular culture in order to appeal to a mass market, but he didn’t ruin the business either. I mean, is the business ruined right now? It’s changed a heck of a lot, but the recent unveiling of WWE’s Performance Centre says it’s far from ruined. I’d say that the mistake WCW made was giving him full creative control. In WWE he was just a writer, he always had at least one McMahon to convince (among others) before his ideas saw the light of day. In WCW there was no filter, his ideas went straight from his mind onto the TV screen. I myself work in a creative job and part of it is having people around me to run ideas past. Some of my ideas suck, but in my mind they are genius, I just need someone to tell me that they suck. Russo required this in WCW, he needed a proper boss with a firm wrestling background to clip his wings a little. I mean the fact that Russo wrote himself into angles is ridiculous, he was the writer! He appeared, as himself, as a central figure in storylines that he wrote! This didn’t just break the fourth wall, it completely demolished it.

I don’t think Russo singlehandedly ruined the business, I don’t even think he singlehandedly ruined WCW. He was a contributing factor, no doubt about that, but he was thrown in to captain a sinking ship. Some of his ideas were awful, but a healthy company would have recovered from them, WCW was just too far gone. He needed everything to work for him, he needed the Midas touch, but like all mortal men he didn’t. Anyway, even if he did have the Midas touch there were factors beyond his control that would have conspired against him anyway.

The nWo: Saviours of WCW or a group that prevented the creation of new stars? (Image courtesy of prowrestling.wikia.com)

The nWo: Saviours of WCW or a group that prevented the creation of new stars? (Image courtesy of prowrestling.wikia.com)

Craig: I guess it all comes down to who is telling the story. Russo says he needed McMahon’s guidance but others say Russo needed the McMahon filter. Either way, he certainly didn’t do too badly for a guy that started working for WWF magazine.

They certainly struggled with creating new stars. Clearly owing a lot to the big names have creative control and being on huge guaranteed contracts. That meant that talented workers such as Chris Jericho and The Radicalz jumped ship whilst WCW battled on with what was that point the 30th or something version of the NWO with Hall, Nash and Hogan still on top as ratings and PPV buys dropped.

Jamie: Even before the nWo era this was a problem. They had the future Stone Cold Steve Austin on their books, and they fired him while he was recovering from an injury. It’s not as if he was a green youngster either, the potential was there for all too see, hence his TV, US and Tag title reigns. Obviously you can’t predict the future, but WCW had the most profitable wrestler of all time on their books, and they blew it.

James: Yeah, WCW seemed to have a chronic inability to create and/or elevate new talent. From when WCW first took the lead in the Monday Night Wars, to its eventual collapse in 2001, they relied on an almost identical set of headliners, many of whom were already established superstars from their time in WWE. Only Goldberg, DDP, and The Giant (later the Big Show) were true WCW originals, and as i mentioned they completely ballsed up Goldberg in the end. As Craig said, they had a wealth of phenomenal talent in their mid-card who were aching for a shot at the big time, but they held them back so long, most ended up jumping ship before ever being given the chance.

Any attempts to highlight the young stars tended to be extremely poorly thought out – who remembers the abysmal New Blood Vs The Millionaires Club, where the young guys were portrayed as the heels? Totalling insane booking there.

Brian: Don’t forget they also had Mark Callous (The Undertaker)….Terra Rising (Triple H)….Brian Armstrong (Road Dog)….Bruiser Mastino (Kane) just to name a few…WCW missed the ball on many young talents.

Jamie: RVD (Robbie V) could be added to this list. You can almost excuse them for letting these guys slip through the net though, almost anyway. They were all pretty inexperienced at the time. However, that comes back to the point about them not creating new stars. WWE spotted the potential in these guys, but WCW were happy to let them go. Let’s put the shoe on the other foot, is there anyone that slipped through the WWE net only to be picked up WCW? I honestly can’t think of anyone who hadn’t already achieved success in WWE.

Craig: I can’t think of anyone either. Sticking with the theme of former WWF/E talent going to WCW though, what about how misused Bret Hart was. Now, we’ve all probably read the “his heart wasn’t in it anymore” comments from Bischoff and others but they just dropped the ball. They didn’t need to give him any over the top gimmick, they didn’t need to reinvent the wheel or come up with a new name has his was owned by WWF or anything. They just needed to have him unleash a shoot style promo against the WWF. Pretty much what X-Pac did the night after Wrestlemania 14. At the very least it’s better than what they did.

Another guy they misued after bringing him in; Mike Awesome. Jeez, what were they thinking?

James: I would agree that Bret was poorly used, but he was coming into a massively over-crowded main event scene in WCW and by that point his enthusiasm for wrestling must have been completley dried up. Bischs comments might seem like a cop out, but Bret must have been in shitty place following everything that happened in WWE. He probably should have taken a break to get his head together before debuting with WCW, but back then it seemed like both companies had to try and immediatley capitalise on an opportunity presented to them. They didnt really have the time to stop and consider the best long term course of action cause they were in the middle of huge ratings war. I’m not defending WCW or the way they used him, or saying that Bret should shoulder any of the blame, i just think that there are very few scenarios that would have stood a chance of really working, at that specific time and place.

Brian: Another big mistake was from Ted Turner himself….selling his cable empire to AOL/Time Warner. Ted Turner was already a billionaire, what was the need for a billion more? After a while, there is not enough time in the day to spend that kind of money. Greed ultimately is what killed WCW, they could cover up mistakes and buy new talent at anytime with Turner running the ship because it was his money and his networks…when he wanted more money he sold out WCW and their fate was sealed. Big corporations don’t get wrestling and AOL/Time Warner was no exception. That was the biggest mistake of all.

Jamie: The only other thing I can think of that we have not mentionined is the very public airing of dirtly laundry at Bash At The Beach 2000. Long story short Jeff Jarrett was defedning the WCW Title against Hogan, however as soon as the bell rang Jarrett lay flat on his back. Hogan looked confused, exchanged words with Vince Russo (who was at ringside) before placing his foot on Jarrett for the three count. Hogan then left the ring with the belt. Once Hogan had gone Russo took to the mic and cut a very strongly worded promo on Hogan, which was of course laden with insider references. Was it a shoot, was it a worked shoot or was it a worked shoot that turned into a shoot? Ultimately it doesn’t matter, because it sucked. All it seemed to achieve was confusing an audience who’s patience was already wearing thin.

Craig: Was it a work or a shoot, that is a big question. Think bit about not bringing Hogan back was a work but we never got to find out with Russo leaving soon afterwards.

Showed how desperate the company was. The idea that such a move could turn things round is ridiculous. Perhaps as ridiculous as having Jeff Jarrett as a main eventer…

All previous Sunday Sermons can be read here.

9 thoughts on “Sunday Sermon: WCW Biggest Mistakes

  1. Arquette as champion…when that happened I figured..this is over..then the nWo constantly showing up, never going away, all of Bischoff’s and Hogan’s buddies being brought in….and pushed….it’s happpening in TNA now.

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  2. Glenn, I can’t help but agree. The last few weeks in TNA are the final few chapters of the forthcoming “Death of TNA” book. (Craig)

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  3. Most of these are valid reasons and I remember all of the stuff happening watching Nitro live each week. One of my favorite stories not mentioned here was when the WWE was going to show a taped Raw that included Mick Foley winning the WWF Title from the Rock. Eric BIschoff told Tony Schiavone on the headset to give people the Raw result ahead of time and rag on Foley as champ, which immediately saw tens of thousands of people switch channels to watch Foley’s match. I tend to agree that if Bischoff is in charge of creative at TNA, it doesn’t bode well.

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  4. Pingback: Sunday Sermon: The Invasion Angle | Ring the Damn Bell

  5. Absolute nonsense. Goldberg v Hogan was worthy of any PPV that the WCW could offer whilst Mankind’s title win took place on another promotions show. To compare the two moments is farcical.

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    • So what you are saying is Rock (who had only just won his first WWE Championship a month or two prior) v Mankind (A man who was never the top guy in any promotion he worked for) for the WWE Title is on the same level as Hogan (arguably the biggest star the industry has ever known) v Goldberg (the white hot babyface with a monster push) for the WCW Title? Don’t say that’s not what you are saying, you are quite clearly comparing two televised world title matches but ignoring the context and performers involved in order to justify your point.

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    • OK, I feel like we’re almost getting somewhere. Firstly the Mankind/Rock match features in our top 5 Raw moments list. It cannot be argued that it was a great moment from the show, although it’s presence in a top 5 is completely subjective. If we were to do a top 5 Nitro moments (which will no doubt happen in the future) I for one would certainly include the Hogan/Goldberg match, it was a massive moment from Monday Nitro. However, great as those moments were for the fans and viewers of Raw and Nitro, one has to question whether EITHER was the most efficient way to make money from the matches in question. Rock v Mankind for the WWE Title was a PPV calibre match, and with ‘Rock Bottom’ as the closest PPV to this particular episode of Raw there is an argument that the title switch should have occurred at that event. Problem was the fans needed to believe that Mankind actually stood a chance in such a match. I mean Foley is hardly your typical WWE Champion is he, fans were right to be skeptical of whether WWE would really give him the title. If the fans don’t believe a challenger stands a chance then there is no reason for them to order a PPV. Thus the title switch occurred on Raw, to show fans that Mankind can get the job done (albeit with a lot of help) heading into the Rumble. This was particularly important as he was scheduled to oppose The Rock for the next couple of months, including two PPV matches. This was also a show of good faith to the fans. If all the big moments and title switches happened on PPV then fans would be less inclined to watch Raw. By having the title change hands on Raw, and a pre-taped show at that, WWE sent out a message telling fans that they needed to watch Raw because anything can happen. I’m not saying this was the right thing to do, I’m just speculating towards WWE’s thought process at the time, and that’s the logical explanation for the Raw Title match.

      As for the Hogan/Goldberg match, well it isn’t too dissimilar from the Rock/Mankind scenario. It was given away for ‘free’ to entice fans to watch Nitro, just as the Mankind match was. Problem was, this match was just too big to give away, and it finished with (by 1998 standards) clean finish. It also didn’t feature as part of a long running feud, and couldn’t thereafter given the way Goldberg dispatched Hogan (there was a distraction, but still ample time for Hogan to save the match afterwards). Mankind’s title win helped to build interest in his bouts with Rock at the Royal Rumble, Half Time Heat, St Valentines Day Massacre and Raw ladder match. What did Hogan and Goldberg do together? Hogan continued to wrestle in matches featuring celebrities (Rodman and Leno) before moving on to The Warrior. Goldberg initially had to deal with Hogan’s nWo underlings before moving on to DDP and then Nash. It just doesn’t make sense that (debatably) WCW biggest match of the year between their top babyface and their top heel would be thrown together with barely a fortnights notice. Hogan and Goldberg could have had weeks of interactions and altercations to build towards a match on PPV, that people would pay to see. It’s obviously impossible for anyone to say for sure, but surely you can see the long term advantage of presenting Hogan v Goldberg on PPV with at least 4 weeks build behind it? The Georgia Dome was packed for that match and Nitro saw it’s best rating since April of that year as a result. Translate that into a month of anticipation and you have 4 weeks of solid ratings followed by a monster PPV.

      The fact is WCW panicked. Raw had been winning the Monday Night Wars for the past couple of months, but they had Goldberg on a roll so they cashed-in. It is our OPINION that WCW cashed-in too early, or at least should have began making preparations for a Goldberg title switch several weeks prior. WCW could have owned the ratings for the month of July, but instead they had one convincing win surrounded by numerous defeats. With Foley’s title win WWE turned quite variable ratings (albeit higher than Nitro) into a consistent 5.0 minimum.

      These were two big moments in Raw and Nitro history, but with the benefit of hindsight it is clear that, however momentous the occasion, WCW could have milked Goldberg/Hogan for so much more than a full Georgia Dome and a 4.8 rating. The old phrase about winning the battle but losing the war is very apt in this instance.

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